It took a while to put my finger on just why the E Tipu IFAMA 2023 World Conference was such a refreshing experience.
The secret, I think, was its focus on the future.
For a start, there were more young people among the attendees in Christchurch last week than I’ve ever seen at a farming conference.
They were not worried about fighting to hold on to what they already have, they were embracing the challenges that lie ahead.
Climate change is real and farming’s social licence is expiring, but these future leaders are invigorated, not anxious.
They’re already living in a warmer world and they want to do everything they can to make sure everyone in it has enough to eat.
What we’ve done in the past is acknowledged, of course. The springboard they’ve been given is sturdy.
But the dive still has to be executed – and they’re up for it.
There’s not much talk of the government among this cohort. Bureaucracy moves too slowly and the path to prosperity lies with them, not Wellington.
Finn Ross and Aimee Blake of Future Farmers New Zealand exemplified the values of the new generation.
This group has a simple strategy – united youth reimagining society to heal our world with food and fibre.
They’re building on the foundations that the farmers who came before them have laid down, erecting a structure that fits the world now – just as farmers have done for millennia.
Evolution doesn’t slow down and right now, with the exponential growth of technology, farmers are being pulled into the future faster than ever.
That’s not a problem for these digital natives who understand that the landscape encompasses not only pastures but fibre networks, social networks and spreadsheets.
The online world is a tool that will enable them to flourish, not a distraction that keeps them from farming.
What’s also inspiring is the way that groups such as Future Farmers are widening their vision to encompass things like Matauranga Māori.
While some see it as a threat to the mainstream Western way of doing things, they simply see another way of thinking that can inform what they do and how they do it.
They don’t just want to be business owners, they want to be custodians of the whenua who see value in more than just dollars and cents.
Ironically, a lot of research tells us the adoption of this way of thinking will help the bottom line over time, so it’s a win-win.
So while politicians and those with large platforms look for ways to exclude people and ideas from the recipe for success, our future leaders are mixing up a big, rich and diverse stew.
If this is a representation of the farmers who will take New Zealand forward, we’re in very good hands.